Getting in Touch with His Masculine Side

Please read Isaiah 42:10-13 and Revelation 19:11-21 in your favorite version of the Bible.  As usual, I’ve used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

God is our Father.  As we learned last month on Mother’s Day that does not mean that His character is limited to masculine behaviors.  Scripture occasionally describes God in terms that are maternal as well.

May we agree that “male” and “female” refer to scientific states that can be objectively established, while outside of biology, “masculine” and “feminine” are terms that reflect a more subjective reality?  Can we acknowledge that the vast majority of us are a mix of character traits that can be described as “masculine” and “feminine”?  God Himself is described in both ways, and we are, both genders, made in His Image.

This set of Mother’s and Father’s Day messages is an attempt to satisfy our curiosity about the nature and character of God.  What we’ve learned is that in His nature, God is NEITHER male nor female; instead, He is a spiritual being.  We’ve learned God’s personality is both fatherly and motherly.

In honor of the day, a little story is required.  One summer evening during a severe thunderstorm a mother tucked her young son back into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when the boy asked, a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”

The mother smiled and said sweetly, “I can’t dear, I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”

A dark, angry look crossed the little face and his lower lip began to protrude.

“The big sissy!”

Last month, on Mother’s day, we got in touch with the “feminine” side of God’s character.  This month, for the sake of truth and equal time, we will look at two passages that clearly point to the “masculine” side of God.

  1. The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN (Isaiah 42:10-13).

Context: Sandwiched between a description of the Lord’s Servant (ch. 42) and Israel’s Savior (ch. 43), we find this passage of praise that affirms God’s nature has characteristics we could call “feminine” (v. 14) and “masculine” (v. 13).

The heading reads “Song of Praise to the Lord.”  Verse nine states that the LORD is doing something NEW; this song may be the announcement promised in this verse.

Comments: The passage juxtaposes the paternal/masculine image of a warrior (v. 13) with the maternal/feminine image of a child-birthing mother in the very next verse (v. 14).  The fact that these images are side by side says to me we needn’t obsess over God’s gender identity, but see them as two sides of the same coin.

The LORD is a victorious warrior.  This martial imagery is quite a contrast to the gentleness of the SERVANT in verses two and three.  THE LORD WILL MARCH OUT is the ancient expression for an army taking the field to fight.  Let’s look at the particulars of Isaiah’s portrayal of the LORD in verse thirteen.

The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN; this phrase reminds us of the soldiers who served King David (2 Samuel 23).  Their conquests and exploits are legendary.

The LORD is a zealous WARRIOR.  The word translated here as ZEAL can also be translated as FURY.  This is His wrath against the wicked and vengeance on those who persecute His people.  God’s eagerness to rescue His people is also measured by the feminine imagery of verse fourteen.

The phrase the LORD will RAISE THE BATTLE CRY gives us an exciting, dramatic picture of God as a general, leading the battle.  It is typical for soldiers to take the field with a shout.  This is done to excite their own courage and intimidate their enemy.  God is taking the field to lead His people into battle versus evil.

The LORD will TRIUMPH OVER HIS ENEMIES.  The identity of HIS ENEMIES is not revealed here, but we can safely generalize it to include the nations persecuting His people and all idolators.  (Verses ten to tweleve have a “four corners of the earth” kind of theme, so His ENEMIES are all over.)  Elsewhere, God is depicted as victorious over the primeval chaos (Psalm 93), the Egyptians (Exodus 15), Babylon (Isaiah 47), death (Isaiah 25:8), and the devil (Revelation 20:7-10).  These all give us information about the ENEMIES the divine WARRIOR has vanquished in battle.

This is masculine imagery, comparing God to a man of action, dynamism, and victorious over all opposition.  This is the kind of stuff that nourishes a man’s soul!

  1. Jesus is the Conquering King (Revelation 19:11-21).

Context: Between a scene of heaven rejoicing over the victory of God (ch. 19) and Judgment Day, we are treated to a description of the King who is the object of worship and the warrior who defeated the enemies judged guilty and destroyed.

Comments: Jesus is the conquering King of Kings.  The WHITE HORSE he rides is a symbol of victory.  We will examine the particulars.

He is CALLED FAITHFUL AND TRUE in verse eleven.  See 3:14, where the letter to the church in Laodicea is the words of the one who is FAITHFUL AND TRUE.  Jesus can be counted on to do the right thing.  Unlike earthly military commanders, He never abuses the might at His disposal.

It is promised that WITH JUSTICE HE JUDGES AND MAKES WAR (11).  This reads a lot like Isaiah 11:3-4, the description of the BRANCH OF JESSE (Jesus).

HE WILL NOT JUDGE BY WHAT HE SEES WITH HIS EYES, OR DECIDE BY WHAT HE HEARS WITH HIS EARS; BUT WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS HE WILL JUDGE THE NEEDY, WITH JUSTICE HE WILL GIVE DECISIONS FOR THE POOR OF THE EARTH.  In Revelation, the theme of a holy war at the end of time is introduced in chs. 13+14.

In verse twelve, it is written that HIS EYES ARE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  This description has already been used in Revelation 1:14 for the figure of the SON OF MAN, and for the SON OF GOD in 2:18, addressor of the letter to the church in Thyatira.

ON HIS HEAD ARE MANY CROWNS (v. 12); obviously, CROWNS are a symbol of authority.  It’s the number and origin of the CROWNS that’s interesting.  Without specifying a number, one might guess the rider wears more CROWNS than the seven on the DRAGON’s head (12:3) and the ten on the BEAST’s head (13:1).  These CROWNS may be the ones the 24 ELDERS laid down before Him (4:10-11) represent the worship offered the LAMB in Revelation 5.

The rider is wears a ROBE DIPPED IN BLOOD (v. 13). Some alternative ancient manuscripts of the Revelation use the word “sprinkled” here.  That translation makes more sense in light of Isaiah 63:1-3, where the conqueror’s robe is STAINED WITH CRIMSON, the blood of the Edomites, enemies of Israel.

However, as this is a figure of Jesus, it is more likely His own blood that makes his ROBE crimson-colored.

IN HIS MOUTH, A SHARP SWORD (15) reads like a startling detail, but it’s not unique to John’s Revelation.  Something similar is mentioned in Psalm 2:9 and Isaiah 11:4: HE WILL STRIKE THE EARTH WITH THE ROD OF HIS MOUTH; WITH THE BREATH OF HIS LIPS HE WILL SLAY THE WICKED. This description has already been used twice in the Revelation.  In 1:16 it appears as part of the description of the One like the Son of Man.  In 2:12+16, we read it in a warning to the church in Pergamum.

The SWORD symbolizes judgment and the MOUTH is the source of words.  Together, this odd-sounding image is one of the powerful words of Jesus, judging sin and condemning sinners to God’s wrath.

The name of the rider is both a mystery and a revelation.  Or, more likely, He has three different names.  Verse twelve relates that HE HAS A NAME WRITTEN ON HIM THAT NO ONE BUT HE HIMSELF KNOWS.  In verse thirteen we read HIS NAME IS THE WORD OF GOD, a name used for Jesus in John 1.  In verse sixteen the location of his NAME (ON HIS THIGH) is revealed to be KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS.  This designation is used for God in Deuteronomy 10:17 and for Jesus in Philippians 2:9.  In Matthew 11:27 Jesus said;

“ALL THINGS HAVE BEEN COMMITTED TO ME BY MY FATHER. NO ONE KNOWS THE SON EXCEPT THE FATHER, AND NO ONE KNOWS THE FATHER EXCEPT THE SON AND THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.”

His victory is described in verses 17-21.  There are two important things to note.

One, His victory will be FINAL. In a grotesque image, the scavenging birds and beasts are invited to feast on the flesh of those fallen in battle (17-18, 21)

Two, His victory will be TOTAL.  In vs. 19-20, the BEAST and FALSE PROPHET, two symbols of the spiritual evil that is behind worldly evil, are defeated and destroyed in THE FIERY LAKE OF BURNING SULFUR.

Even though militaristic images are used here, the ultimate triumph over spiritual evil and its human accomplices was not accomplished by military might, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It is a spiritual victory.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

What I’ve learned from this set of two messages is that if gender is not an issue where God is concerned, it shouldn’t be an issue where His people are concerned.  Were we to investigate the issue further, we’d find that God’s ideal is that all His children experience a kind of wholeness that comes from having both maleness and femaleness in our character and thinking.  In the plan of God, both genders exist so that each can supply what is typically lacking in the other.  Starting with Adam and Eve, men and women are to complement one another.  This is the genius of God’s plan where marriage and the Church are concerned; the people coming together to be one, and that one being more than the sum of their parts.  That strikes me as a virtue worth working toward.

Speaking of work…

A father was conversing with his young daughter, showing off her knowledge of geography to proud grandparents.

He said, “Where does mommy live?”

“Minn-e-apolis” the little voice answered, carefully forming each syllable.

“Right!  Where do grandpa and grandma live?

“Bal-ti-more.”

“Good job!  And where does daddy live?”

“At work.”

Convicted, the father took the next day off and spent it with his little girl.

Apart from having truthful theology that recognizes God as our Father and King, what difference does all of this make?  It is crucial in at least two ways:

  • You can bow before Him now or later, but later is too late. Believe on Him today!
  • Don’t just acknowledge His kingship, make Him YOUR King. Bow to Him today!

Make a personal commitment, not just a profession of faith.

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A Fishy Story

Please read Matthew 17:24-27 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land.

  1. The problem as the tax collectors saw it. (17:24)

The tax collectors saw Jesus and Peter as being delinquent on their taxes.  That was the presenting issue anyway.  I suspect this was a trap set for Jesus.  The passive aggressive way the question is framed supports this view.  Also, the Gospels mention several occasions when Jewish leaders tried to catch Jesus in an error or taking sides in a hotly-debated issue.  Kind of like our media!

This event happened in Capernaum, Jesus’ usual home when in Galilee, the province north of Jerusalem in Judea.  The word “tax” doesn’t actually appear in verse 24.  It literally says “two-drachma coin,” which was the temple tax rate.

This was the only tax collected by the Jews not the Romans.  The Romans were historically lenient when it came to religious observances that did not compromise imperial taxes and/or loyalty to the empire.  Interesting fact: even after the Jewish temple was destroyed in 72 AD, the Romans continued the tradition of the “temple tax,” but they used it to find their temple to Jupiter!

We might call this a “head tax;” if you’ve got one, you’ve got to pay it.  It was commanded in Scripture: see Exodus 30:11-16.  It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:6+9, where it is called “atonement for your soul.”  That sounds important!

One drachma was a day’s wage for a typical worker.  Imagine me showing up on your doorstep once a year and hitting you up for two day’s income.  It might not bankrupt you, but it wasn’t painless either.

Commentator William Barclay explains the need for the tax:

“The temple at Jerusalem was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices each of which involved the offering of a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered flour and oil.  The incense which was burned every day had to be bought and prepared.  The costly hangings and the robes of the priests constantly wore out; and the robe of the High Priest was itself worth a king’s ransom.  All this required money.”

(The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, p. 168.)

  1. The problem as Jesus saw it. (17:25-26)

Jesus’ saw the problem as being the tax collector attempting to collect from Peter and Himself a tax from which they were exempt. The encounter started with the tax collectors jumping Peter at the door.  Maybe they were trying to surprise Peter and intimidate him?  Peter may’ve been intimidated or surprised and he blurted out, “YES, HE DOES,” then went inside to make sure He did.

Jesus overheard; I imagine the tax collectors made a loud accusation, trying to make Jesus look bad in front of the folks that typically gathered outside any place He settled.  When Peter came inside, Jesus commented: “WHAT DO YOU THINK, SIMON?  FROM WHOM DO THE KINGS OF THE EARTH COLLECT DUTY AND TAXES – FROM THEIR OWN SONS OR FROM OTHERS?”

The answer was obvious, and Peter got it; “FROM OTHERS” he replied.  This was true; it was the habit of kings of the day to excuse members of their family from paying taxes.  Jesus’ first point is that the king’s kids are excused from paying taxes.  This was one of many examples of the powerful oppressing the needy.

His next point is that He is Son to a much greater King; the very God who commanded the tax be collected!  Jesus’ knowledge of His unique place came early in life.  In Luke 2:49 we see that Jesus, as a 12 year-old, referred to the temple as “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  As God’s Son, He was not – according to usual standards – required to pay any taxes.

A third point is that if this tax really was “atonement for the soul,” He needed to do no atoning, because He was not guilty of sin. There was no separation between God the Son and God the Father. No offering was needed.  Just the opposite; Jesus IS our atonement!  In His sacrifice on the cross we find our sin forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

He turned the occasion into a teachable moment, revealing two things about Himself.  First, Jesus is LORD.  “THEN THE SONS ARE EXEMPT” Jesus said to Peter, continuing the dialogue (26).  As the Son of God, Jesus was not required to pay that tax.

When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we accept His right to rule over our lives and offer ourselves in service to Him.  Ironically, it is in this surrender that we realize true freedom.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17; NOW THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, AND WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

Second, Jesus revealed that He is LOVE.  Jesus went on to say, “BUT SO WE MAY NOT OFFEND THEM…” (27).  The Gk word for OFFEND is skandalizein.  It meant to be a “stumbling block, a reason for sin, an obstruction in someone’s path.”  We must carefully guard against bringing offense or scandal if it’s at all possible.

A basic moral principle is the “preciousness of others.”  It’s based on Phillippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  Jesus was under no legal obligation to pay their tax, but He did pay it, out of love.

  1. Jesus’ solution to the problem. (17:26-27)

The customs of the day did not require Jesus to pay the tax – the law did not apply to Him.  However, He voluntarily paid the tax because of the greater law of love.  Even though it was just tricky tax collectors setting a trap, He voluntarily paid the tax.

He performed a miracle to prove His legal exception and His true nature.  This miracle drives some people crazy.  The whole coin and the fish thing sounds like – well, like a fish story!           After all, why not just reach in His pocket and give Peter two coins?

First, pockets hadn’t been invented yet.  The French did that hundreds of years later.

Second, when we do what anybody can do, how does God get any glory out of that?  Miraculous and supernatural things serve as better evidence for God than everyday things.

Third, I picture the crowd outside waiting on the results of this confrontation and understood it to be a demonstration that will literally show them who is boss.

Jesus sent Peter out to the lake, which was probably nearby.  “Go fish” He said.  The first fish to bite would have something special in its tummy.  Peter was to take the coins he found there and use those funds to pay their taxes.

People who are troubled by these verses have not taken time to think it out or have a nutty predisposition against miracles.   Some think they are too smart – too “scientific” – to believe in miracles. Others think it depicts Jesus as misusing His divine power.

They’re both wrong.  Every Gospel miracle had a shared purpose: to show people Jesus is God’s Son.  The purpose of this miracle is no different.  Only the occasion is different.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and then proved He was by means of this miracle.

  1. How does this help you pay your taxes?

Go fishing – what can it hurt?  You will likely find this is a one-time event and won’t be repeated for you.  Notice that the fish had exactly what was needed, no more.  God supplies our “daily bread” without wasting any extra “dough.”

He supplies our needs, not our “greeds.”  Biblically, the ideal is that we can be self-sufficient enough to be generous with those in need and support God’s work too.

It can help with your attitude if you follow Jesus’ example of  humility and love.  Love for others is the second greatest command.  Jesus showed love by sincerely attempting to avoid causing offense to the legalistic crowd hung up on his taxes.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land

I’ll admit: on the outside this story reads strangely.  One commentator wrote that he’d been ashamed of the story because it felt so contrary to our reasonable and scientific culture.  It can feel silly to moderns who are so proud of their brains and have put their trust in science.

It is my prayer that we’ve looked more deeply.  With God’s Spirit we’ve seen this event through the eyes and ears of the people on the scene when it happened.   Hopefully it will make more sense and be visible to us as a time when Jesus used an unusual circumstance to teach very typical lessons on who He was and how we are to live like Him.

While it is a “fish story,” it is true and a parable of sorts that reminds us about God’s provision for us, our provision for each other, and our responsibility to see God in the details of daily living.

No Foolin’

Easter

Please read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 in your favorite Bible.  FYI: I use the NIV (1984).

As we observed weeks ago, the conjunction of Resurrection Sunday and April Fools Day is something that only comes along every 20 years, give or take.  It seemed to me that this is my only shot at preaching on this occasion and the Lord gave me a passage that has elements of both Jesus’ Resurrection and April Fools.

The history of April Fools’ Day is uncertain, but many believe it began in 1582 in France when King Charles IX required a switch to the Gregorian calendar; the one we currently use.  This makes today the 436th observance of April Fools’ Day.

The change was invoked on April first.  People who weren’t informed of the change were ridiculed as fools and that’s how the day was named.  As the new calendar took hold around the world, so did the custom of April Fools’ Day as a time of playing pranks and practical jokes to have a laugh at others’ expense.

This morning we’re going to take a look at the worst kind of foolishness; rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Don’t be fooled by lesser offers; find life in Christ.

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

  1. Folks who were fooled crucified Jesus.

The first comparison of the passage: two kinds of WISDOM are contrasted: worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom.  Heavenly WISDOM is only for the MATURE (6).  Who are MATURE people? They are people who have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation by faith.  And they go further, continuing to learn by study and practice in daily living.  MATURE people have received salvation and are undergoing sanctification.  This WISDOM is centered on the cross and the empty tomb; it is summed up in what we have gathered to celebrate: Easter!

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE and the RULERS OF THIS AGE are both futile; they inevitably come to NOTHING (6).  Why are they doomed to failure?  Because they refuse God’s gift of salvation by faith and stubbornly insist on works to earn it.  To these people the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS.  (Here is our first tie-in to April Fools Day.)  So it comes down to a distinction between believers and unbelievers.

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE fooled some folks into crucifying THE LORD OF GLORY (8).  The RULERS OF THIS AGE probably refers to the leaders of government and religion at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But based on how Paul used this phrase elsewhere, some scholars think he is referring to spiritual beings.  If the devil thought he could silence Jesus by killing him on the cross; boy was HE FOOLED!

Whether leaders or devils or both, the powers opposing Jesus fooled themselves when they guessed the cross would be the end of the story!  This is our second tie-in to April Fools’ Day.

Because they operate without the Spirit, God’s truth seems like FOOLISHNESS to unbelievers (14).  Here’s our third tie-in to April Fools’ Day and our second contrast.  The contrast here is between material things and spiritual things.

People who only believe anything their five senses can verify do NOT ACCEPT truths that come from spiritual sensitivities; such things seem foolish to them.  Spiritual discernment is a kind of “sixth sense” and is available only as the Spirit reveals it.

  1. Believe the truth and be saved.

God’s truth is quite different from the world.  It is for the spiritually MATURE (6).  It might help to think of the word as “maturing” instead.  That way, we realize the Christian life is a life-long process of growth in wisdom.

The truth is, salvation is the destiny of God’s chosen (7).  It is clear that the Bible writers want to say that God knew and chose those who would be saved, and that people have to choose to accept God to be saved.  It is appropriate to say that God knew from before the creation of the world who would receive His salvation.  I want you to take this promise personally: GOD DESTINED this wisdom FOR OUR GLORY BEFORE TIME BEGAN.  BEFORE TIME BEGAN God knew you and loved you and did all of this so you could be part of His big heavenly family.

The truth is a SECRET, HIDDEN thing (7, 9).  It is SECRET and HIDDEN in three senses.  One, God revealed the truth over the course of several centuries of human history.  What is promised and hinted at in the Old Testament is fulfilled and declared openly in the New Testament.  Two, it can only be perceived by faith.  The Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth, but unbelievers’ minds are clouded by their own choice to reject God.  Three, in verse nine, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 to show that God’s plans are too wonderful for the human mind to grasp on its own.  We just can’t “get it” on our own.

God’s truth is revealed only by the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote; GOD HAS REVEALED IT TO US BY HIS SPIRIT (10).  The Spirit replaces ignorance with knowledge.  God reveals Himself to us very plainly in the Bible, the word of God.  The Spirit helps us to be sensitive to the words in the Bible, to understand and apply them.

The SPIRIT knows this wisdom because it SEARCHES ALL THINGS, EVEN THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD (10).  God knows ALL THINGS, revealing to us even the DEEP THINGS OF GOD by means of the Spirit.  This will sound crazy to people still stuck in a worldly frame of reference, but it is true because God said so.

Paul offers an example in v. 11: it is true of human beings that we can’t read each other’s minds.  THANK GOD!  Am I right?!  If we can’t read each other’s minds then it is impossible for us to know the MIND OF GOD.  Only the Spirit KNOWS THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.  It’s obvious we need help: that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in to reveal truth to us.

God gives us His Spirit to know His truth.  In verse twelve we find a second comparison.  On the one hand, we have NOT been given THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. The WORLD is the system that opposes God.  It relies on human reasoning, senses, and even lies to dispute God’s word.

On the other hand, we HAVE received THE SPIRIT WHO IS FROM GOD.  Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to all persons of sincere faith.  True faith originates in, and is perpetuated by, the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of God the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD HAS FREELY GIVEN US.  The Spirit helps us UNDERSTAND the love of God expressed in Jesus. Don’t overlook the word FREELY.  It is Paul’s reminder salvation is by grace, not by works.

By the Spirit we express SPIRITUAL TRUTH IN SPIRITUAL WORDS [variant text: “men”] (13). SPIRITUAL TRUTHS must be expressed in SPIRITUAL WORDS by spiritual people.  How can we possibly do that?  We can do it only as the Holy Spirit teaches us how to do it.

By the Spirit we show good judgment (15).  In our culture the word “judgment” has been misidentified as a vice.  However, the fact is that we must show good judgment in the choices we make.  The Holy Spirit informs our morality as it does our spirituality.  People of faith are to be more loving in word & deed.

By the Spirit we share THE MIND OF THE LORD/CHRIST (16). This is a staggering claim: we who believe have the MIND OF CHRIST! On an individual level, this measures our kinship with Christ.  We can think as He thinks, share his attitudes, and do what Jesus would do in every situation.  On a church level, this measures our unity.  We talk about being “like-minded,” referring to agreement on a particular issue.  But this is a more significant depth of relationship.

Our life with Christ is not an overlay on our personality, but a shared personality, a level of accord and maturity that will be unmatched by anything on earth!

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

How do we take part in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  In what way is Easter our victory, shared with Christ?  What does God ask of us?

God asks us to believe.  He has already done the 99% necessary for us to be saved.  Our 1% is to believe.

We receive His salvation by faith, not by works.  It is an act of grace He prepared even before He formed the universe.

Salvation is free, but it will also be the first step in a lifetime of change, a continual pursuit of maturity.  Salvation is free, but we gladly exchange all the world offers in order to attain more and more to a life that follows Jesus’ example.

Receive this gift this morning.  Make it the best day of your life, one that has eternal benefits.  Receive the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, and one day, you will be raised with Him!

Were You There?

board game

Casting about on the internet, I found part of a 2009 sermon by C. Philip Green entitled “Take A Risk.”  There he described a game published by Parker Brothers in the 1950’s.  It was called “Going to Jerusalem.”  (it’s worth $50 on Ebay!)

The players moved little plastic pieces across the Holy Land by looking up answers to questions in a little book of the Gospels provided with the game. Players started in Bethlehem, and moved their three pieces all the way to a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem to win the game.

Pastor Green took exception to the fact that there was never any Crucifixion or Resurrection following the Triumphal Entry.  You just got to Jerusalem and quit.  He saw this as very unbiblical, promoting a shallow and impractical expectation of life and a lopsided view of Scripture.  Sure, it’s easy to get people to line up to be the life of the party, the “Grand Marshall” of the parade if that’s all there is, but there’s only been one man willing to face pain, humiliation, death, and taking on every other human being’s sin.
https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermoncentral–stories-discipleship-74176?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

I have to agree with Pastor Green.  While the Triumphal Entry makes for a good game, we need to know the whole truth.  In the Bible, the Triumphal Entry was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we’ll see this morning is that the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem supports two points: One, Jesus is King, and two, He’s not the king you’re looking for, but He is the King you need!

Please read Mark 11:1-11 in your favored version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

  1. Who would you have been?

Obviously, you’d have been a Jew.  You would have been one of thousands of pilgrims attending the Passover; a Jewish feast day and arguably the most important.  (If you melded Christmas and July 4th, you’d have a similar vibe: patriotic and religious.)  Jewish pilgrims came to the feast from all corners of the Empire.

Passover occurs in the spring, during the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th day, which is often in early April.  Using astronomical data, our best guess is that THIS Passover was April 3, AD 33 or April 7, AD 30.

The last leg of your trip is from Jericho to Jerusalem, and could be the most difficult part of your journey.  Jericho is 17 miles from Jerusalem, but the Roman road goes up and over the Mount of Olives, elevation 2600 feet.

There is a village along this route, but it is so small, off the main road, and so close to the city that not many people ever stop there as they make this journey.  So why does Bethany rate a mention in Mark 11:1?  Mark tells us that during the days prior to His death, Jesus didn’t spend nights in the city, but stayed in Bethany.  Bethany was home to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This is one of many instances where Jesus is shows He was completely in control of the events leading up to His death.  He didn’t want to be handed over to the Jewish authorities too soon; His death had to occur during the Passover.  Staying in Bethany kept Him further off the public “radar” until His time had really come.

  1. What would you have done?

We could twist our heads around backward trying to make a firm calendar of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.  For example, Mark has Jesus going directly from Jericho to Jerusalem while John has Him stopping in Bethany first.  There are ways to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies, but today we’ll skip all those details and look at the sequence Mark offers.

Every faithful Jew was expected to return to Jerusalem at this time every year.  If you were wealthy, you probably did.  If not, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jesus’ coming into the city was something people anticipated and raised the excitement of THAT Passover to new heights.  They were familiar with the details of the predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures, so Jesus’ method of arrival sent an unspoken message: “Here I am!  Your King has arrived!”

SO – on this day you greet Jesus as a King, with the great enthusiasms we read in vs. 8-10.  You spread your cloak out on the road before Him.  This is the ancient equivalent of the “red carpet treatment.”  (In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu was crowned king, the people greeting him in this way.)  Your hope is that this parade will be the first step to Jesus assuming the throne of David, overthrowing the Romans.

You spread out branches cut from roadside fields.  In this culture cut branches were associated with joyous times. (For the Festival of Booths, palm branches were cut to make temporary shelters.)

You praise Him by shouting, “HOSANNA!” and “HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  Hosanna means “God saves!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was shouted by folks on one side of the road, while “BLESSED IS THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID” was shouted as a response by folks on the other side of the road.  This antiphonal kind of worship was typical among the Jews; the Psalms were recited in this way.

  1. Why would this Passover be remembered?

Because it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and a prophecy from Jesus Himself.  Jesus sent His disciples after the COLT as a demonstration of His miraculous fore-knowledge and divine authority over the events as they unfolded (vs. 2-4).

His miraculous foreknowledge is revealed in the fact that the animal was precisely where He said it was and the exchange occurred just as He said it would.  The fact that the owners initially objected shows Jesus had NOT made previous arrangements with them.  The disciples did not identify themselves or the LORD they represented.

His divine authority is indicated in the fact that the owners allowed the COLT to be taken by strangers who did nothing more than say, “THE LORD NEEDS IT AND WILL SEND IT BACK SHORTLY.”

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus rides anything.  He walked everywhere else.  The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is just two miles.  The COLT is not needed for practical reasons, but was chosen to send a biblical message to the faithful pilgrims on the road; “Your Messiah has come!  God’s Promised One is here!”

You will also remember it because on that day your hopes and dreams were fulfilled.  At this time in history, the Jewish people had been under the heel of Rome for nearly 100 years.  They were understandably anxious to throw the Romans out of their land. During those years, men would claim to be the Messiah and amass a group of followers.  The inevitable result was a rebellion against Rome ending in bloodshed and even worse offenses imposed on the people as a means of punishment and discouraging further rebellion.

To these horrible violations you added with the typical and more personal abuses of authority you’ve experienced at the hands of Romans.

With the city crammed with pilgrims during the Passover, it was a yearly crucible for rebellion, and the Jewish leaders worried terribly about a repeat of past events.  You can see how easily a big public demonstration like this would provoke a deadly reaction in a way that Jesus’ teaching or miracles ever did.

One last fact to support this interpretation: when Jesus finally got into the city, what did He do?  Not much.  Verse eleven tells us He went directly to the temple, but just looked around a bit, then left!

That was surely unexpected and probably felt a little anticlimactic.  And it begs the question, why go to all of that trouble just walk in, look around, and walk back out again?

I believe the best explanation for Jesus’ action is because the parade accomplished Jesus’ purpose and there was nothing more to do.  He’d already made His point and there was no reason to linger.

Dr. William Craig Lane is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith.  I used his article on Mark 11 as a basis for my remarks and will quote a small part of it to conclude. (Go to https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-triumphal-entry/ to see for yourself.)

“What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather, Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would lead to his execution. Throughout the process he displayed foreknowledge of the events of his passion and announced all these things in advance.

“The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews expected a king who would be a great military leader who would establish God’s kingdom by force. But Jesus was radically different than they expected.”

At the beginning of this message I asked,

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

I hope and pray your answer has come closer to the very message Jesus was trying to send: He came as King, but not the kind of King who meets worldly hopes or fulfills dreams we have written for ourselves.

I hope and pray you have decided to make Jesus YOUR King.  That you see in Him the fulfilling of all God’s promises on His terms and in ways that bless and challenge us in ways we didn’t anticipate or want, but have found to be exactly what we needed.

There is no better reaction you can have to the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry than to take your place among the crowds who welcomed Him.  No greater act of faith than to welcome Him as your own Lord and Savior.

Last Supper, Last Words (5 of 5)

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(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone.  When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church.  It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”

“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)

Why is that joke funny?  Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)

He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.”  We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer.  There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God).  There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God.  As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.

An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.”  An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves.  Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.

In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.”  Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)

The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.”  When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity!  We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.

I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own.  If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God?  God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.

This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed.  This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.

In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.”  The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence.  Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other.  This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.

In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways.  First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.”  The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift.  Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.”  The unity God gives is COMPLETE.  God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.

The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things.  One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father.  Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world.  One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity.  How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)

“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment.  Go back to John 14:1-4.  What did Jesus promise His disciples?  He promised a heavenly home with lots of room!   That should create confidence.

Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven.  Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.

We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory.  We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit.  (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.”  In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.

“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth.  Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.

“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.

“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)

The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must.  Why don’t worldly folk know the Father?  There are at least four reasons:

One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.

Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”

Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.

Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God.  They are not innocent or ignorant victims.  The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.

Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD.  In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.

“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.

“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.”  Jesus keeps this promise through you and me.  He makes God known through us!

LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world.  We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words.  The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.

Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.

The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer.  The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.

Those facts ought to be instructive to us.  Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.

Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed.  First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him.  He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us.  He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.

He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord.  While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.

Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?”  Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love.  These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith.  We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.

Last Supper, Last Words (4 of 5)

God Wins 2

(Retrieved from http://gods411.blogspot.com/2013/11/god-always-wins.html on 3/13/18.)

Please read John 16:17-33 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this message.

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

I read a post by Jason Cole, pastor of Fellowship Christian/

Church of Christ in Knoxville, TN.  You need to understand the folks in that denomination take Communion at every worship service.  He wrote; “Baptists don’t take Lord’s Supper every Sunday so they can have room for there [sic] big meals Sunday afternoon.”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jason-cole-humor-lordssupper-761?+ref=TextIllustrationDetails on 3/9/18.>

This post is several years old, but I feel I need to say, “Hey Jason.  Those are fightin’ words.  Come join us here at Emmanuel any Sunday.  We’ll have the Lord’s Supper AND a big meal afterward!  Every Baptist I know can do BOTH! We’ll show you how it’s DONE, son!”

I mention this in part because it’s funny and in part to say we don’t take the Lord’s Supper any less seriously because we observe it once a month.  In these Sundays of Lent we’ve focused our attention on the Last Supper, the occasion on which everybody’s celebration of Communion is based.

We’re learning a great deal about how Jesus used this final time with His disciples to prepare them for the next few days and for life and ministry beyond them.

  1. The disciples’ confusion. (16:17-18)

To put this in context, we need to go back and read v. 16.  <Read it.>  We can assume Jesus is predicting His death (“YOU WILL SEE ME NO MORE”) and His Resurrection (“THEN AFTER A LITTLE WHILE YOU WILL SEE ME”).  However, we have the benefit of history and Scripture.  The disciples had neither and this sentence on its own is rather obscure and difficult to understand.

They didn’t understand His timing.  THEY KEPT ASKING, “WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY ‘A LITTLE WHILE?’”  Verses 17+18 show that this supper was not a lecture by Jesus, but an evening’s worth of conversation.  I think the fact that the disciples kept on discussing this implies that they were more than a little puzzled, maybe even perturbed, by these mysterious statements.

They were pondering 14:28 & 16:5+10 where Jesus said He was GOING to the FATHER.  They must’ve wonder how and why this was going to happen, as well as when it would take place.

They didn’t comprehend His mission.  Though it seems to us Jesus spoke plainly, the disciples were involved in the moment and, typical to human nature, did not grasp the scope of Jesus’ mission. Their expectations also got in the way of seeing the whole truth.  They expected Jesus to inaugurate the worldly kind of kingdom for which they’d hoped.

  1. Jesus’ explanation. (16:19-28)

He promised their GRIEF would turn to JOY.  Their grief and joy would be the opposite of the world’s (v. 20) because the source of their JOY is Jesus, not the WORLD.  Jesus illustrated their change of heart by referring to the change in the way a new mother feels when giving birth (v. 21).  It can be a dramatic change from pain to joy. Similarly, the disciples would be filled with GRIEF at Jesus’ death and then filled with a greater JOY when He was resurrected.

He promised them power in prayer.  Part of the disciple’s JOY on THAT DAY would be the exercise of greater authority and power in prayer (vs. 23-24).  From His Resurrection forward, Jesus’ followers would be marked by “Yes” answers to prayer because they would pray in His NAME.  In the Bible a person’s NAME summarizes their character, purpose, nature, and power.  This means that praying in Jesus’ name is going to involve more than the rote addition of his name to a prayer.  The outcome of a Holy Spirit-powered prayer life is COMPLETE JOY.  Another augmentation of prayer is our direct connection to God via prayer (vs. 26-27).

It means to pray for the things Jesus would ask of the Father, to pray in the Holy Spirit as He did, to express in our prayers a complete dependence on God.  Jesus devoted Himself to private times of prayer and once prayed so intently that drops of blood rolled like sweat off His brow.

Powerful prayer is not a matter of words, gesture, or posture, but depends wholly on our relationship with Jesus Christ (v. 28).  The Bible describes Jesus as our Mediator (see 1 Timothy 2:5) and as being seated on the right hand of God the Father (see Luke 22:69), making intercession for us (see Romans 8:34).  Our relationship with God is based on LOVE.  God the Father loved us first and showed it by sending Jesus to us, to obtain salvation.  Having done that, Jesus went BACK TO THE FATHER to mediate for us.  Without His mediation, living a godly life would be completely impossible.

He promised to teach them PLAINLY (v. 25).  Much of Jesus’ teaching was in the form of parables.  These were stories with meaning was hidden to those who refused to have faith but apparent to those who did.  Superficially, they were stories about common enough events, but the particulars of the stories were “figurative;” they were symbols of other things.

Often enough, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t always understand the parables.  They sometimes asked for an explanation.  On one such occasion, Jesus said, “THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU, BUT TO OTHERS I SPEAK IN PARABLES, SO THAT, ‘THOUGH SEEING, THEY MAY NOT SEE; THOUGH HEARING THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND.’” (Luke 8:10)

It may sound like Jesus was being evasive, but He taught in parables precisely because they had that quality of separating believers and unbelievers.  After His Resurrection, Jesus would not use figurative teaching like the parables, but He promised instead, to teach them PLAINLY ABOUT GOD THE FATHER.

  1. The disciples’ understanding. (16:29-30)

They praised His plain speaking: “NOW YOU ARE SPEAKING CLEARLY AND WITHOUT FIGURES OF SPEECH.”  We can appreciate how they might’ve gotten heartily sick of NOT understanding, of being unable to appreciate the symbolism Jesus used to present truth to them.  In any event, they seem pretty happy to hear things stated in obvious ways.  It worked, because they made a bold statement of faith.

Encouraged by Jesus’ promise, they declared a bold faith, making three statements in v. 30.  “YOU KNOW ALL THINGS” = That is something that is only true of God; this is evidence that the eleven believed Jesus to, in some sense, BE God.  “YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE TO ANYONE ASK YOU QUESTIONS” = They anticipated a time when Jesus’ divine nature

would be obvious to all; no one would need to ask if He was the Messiah or not.  “THIS MAKES US BELIEVE YOU CAME FROM GOD.”  That is, the He is the Messiah.

  1. Jesus’ prediction. (16:31-33)

Jesus rejoiced in their belief. There are two ways to translate v. 31, as the NIV relates in a footnote.  One is as a question; “Do you now believe?” or as a statement, “YOU BELIEVE AT LAST!”

I prefer the statement version because it applauds and affirms what the disciples have just declared by faith.  The faith they had was not highly developed but, to be fair, we all start at an elementary level and then develops as we learn about and experience God.

He warned of a scattering, but promised His presence (v. 32).  “A TIME IS COMING, AND HAS COME WHEN YOU WILL BE SCATTERED, EACH TO HIS OWN HOME.  YOU WILL LEAVE ME ALL ALONE” predicts their abandoning Jesus at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.”  Interestingly, in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest there is no mention of the disciples running away.  In 21:1-2, after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter, James, and John, who had returned to their homes in Galilee.

“YET I AM NOT ALONE, MY FATHER IS WITH ME.”  One of the repeated themes of this section is Jesus’ warning the disciples, another is Jesus’ close relationship to the Father.  It is a great comfort to know Jesus is our Advocate before the Father.  We have strength to endure trials and persecution.

He warned them of TROUBLE, but promised He overcame the WORLD.  As we saw Him do in 13:19, 14:29, and 16:1-4, in v. 33 Jesus explained that His purpose was to warn His disciples, preparing them for what was coming next.  Everybody desires PEACE but too few recognize where PEACE is found: in Jesus (“IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE”).  This is one of the most comforting verses in all the Gospels, isn’t it?

Jesus acknowledged while we live IN THIS WORLD we will have TROUBLE.  BUT – we don’t need to be overcome by these troubles because Jesus has OVERCOME THE WORLD!

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

Last Supper, Last Words, (3 of 5)

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Retrieved from http://www.newlife4kokomo.org/unfazed-how-to-deal-with-opposition/.

Please read John 15:18-6:4 in your version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Opendoorsusa.org compiles a “World Watch List” that reports on countries where persecution of Christians is strongest.  According to their most recent report, the top five worst places to be a Christian are, in order, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan.  Probably no one is surprised to hear those names.  You may be surprised to hear that India is 11th on the list, Ethiopia 39th, our neighbor Mexico is 39th and Columbia is 49th.  When you see them on a map, these countries circle the middle part of the globe, with more tolerant countries to the north and south.

Christians have established and enjoyed freedom in America for so long we find it hard to imagine state-sponsored or societal persecution of the Church.  In our own country, what I would call “practicing Christians” number only 20% of the population.  Given our cultural situation, this is not a statistic we can just ignore.  It is not impossible to believe that persecution is ever more than a generation away.  Whatever form it may take, Jesus’ followers should expect opposition from the devil and his people.  At the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing His eleven disciples to deal with opposition on a worldwide scale and to a lethal degree.  His teaching?

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

  1. God’s people will be opposed by the world. (15:18-25)

We can be sure the WORLD will oppose Jesus’ people as it opposed Jesus.  He gave us six reasons for this persecution.

#1 – IT (the world) HATED ME FIRST (v. 18).  Jesus is first in all things, including being hated.  In the Gospels we see hatred being directed at Jesus, not the disciples.

#2 – You don’t belong to the WORLD (v. 19).  This word for WORLD in New Testament era Greek does not refer t0 this planet, but to human culture and systems that set themselves against God. Commentator William Barclay has a great definition of the world: the WORLD is “human society organizing itself without God.”

When we are born again we are born into God’s heavenly rule and our primary citizenship is there.  This is why the Bible tells us that we have been called “out” of the world though we still live in it (see John 15:19).

#3 – The relationship between SERVANT (us) and MASTER (Jesus) in verse twenty.  They persecuted Jesus; they will PERSECUTE us.  The SERVANT (or disciple) identifies with the master and shares the master’s life, so what the MASTER faces, the SERVANT does also.

That can work advantageously too.  If they had OBEYED Jesus’ teaching, they would obey ours too.  Saved folk don’t immediately go to heaven because God wants to use us to bring others to faith.

#4 – They don’t know God the Father or recognize God the Son (5:21+6:3).  Sometimes it’s hard enough to remember the names of people you’ve met, say nothing of recognizing people you don’t know.  What’s true in earthly life can also true in spiritual life; it’s impossible to know God without faith in Jesus (see John 14:6).

#5 – Because Jesus exposes their sin, they are GUILTY (22+24).  In John 3:19-20 Jesus taught that evil people prefer the darkness because it hides the evil they do.  We’ve all seen how hypocrites hate to be exposed for what they really are.  They react negatively and strongly to the one who has exposed them.

Jesus exposed their sin indirectly in His teaching.  He set forth God’s righteous standard and they fell far short of that.  He exposed their sin indirectly in His living, as His moral and spiritual life was in perfect conformity with God’s standard.  Jesus exposed their sin directly by publicly condemning their hypocrisy .

His most vicious enemies were hypocrites who resented His teaching because it blew up their self-deceptions and their public perceptions.  Ironically, hypocrites don’t feel guilt because their self-deception goes so deep, but Jesus said in both these verses that they are, in fact, GUILTY people.

#6 – Because they hate God the Father and we are related to Him (vs. 23-24).  There is no separating God the Father from God the Son; nor is there any way to separate God the Son from His people.  The hypocrites would soon display hatred of God the Son by having Him nailed to a cross.  Jesus wanted them to know hatred of Him was the same thing as hating the Father.

The WORLD will HATE God’s people.  To HATE means to dislike so much persecution is the result; detest or abhor.  The tense of the verb indicates the WORLD’s hatred is ongoing.  In this case, Jesus and His Church are hated undeservingly.

They HATED Jesus even though He did MIRACLES among them (24).  In the Bible, one of the purposes of MIRACLES is to validate the message of anyone who claims to speak for God.  Jesus’ MIRACLES validated His message and still some people HATED Him.

Let’s go one further: most of Jesus’ MIRACLES were acts of kindness.  He did healings and exorcisms by the dozens.  He raised the dead and fed thousands.  These were never displays of power intended to impress.  Jesus used divine power to help people.  What kind of a person is going to HATE Him for that?  Not a good or godly person.

Their hatred fulfills prophecy (v. 25).  Jesus quoted Psalm 35:9 & 69:4.  We don’t normally refer to that part of the Old Testament as LAW, but Jesus saw it that way.  It was a “law” in the sense that you could expect hypocritical people to behave this way just about every time.  Notice Jesus said “THEIR LAW” to make it clear that the hypocrites do not even keep their own standards, say nothing of God’s.

  1. The Holy Spirit helps us keep our testimony in spite of opposition. (15:26-16:4)

He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (26).  The Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to TESTIFY to the TRUTH, the words of testimony, and courage to speak them.  Our part is simply to follow through and do it.  The Holy Spirit also helps us under-stand and apply the Bible to our own lives and use it to help others.  To what the Spirit provides, we add our personal experience, Bible knowledge, personality, and inner convictions.  Put it all together and we are a witnessing MACHINE!

The Holy Spirit will TESTIFY about Jesus and with His help, we will also TESTIFY about Him (26-27).  We can and should use the communication tools and technology available to us, within reason.   However, we tend to think that mass media is going to be sufficient for our outreach.  I have said this before, publicity and programs will never replace people.

The vast majority of people (more than 80%) who are in church are there because someone invited them personally.  God has chosen you and me to make personal invitations and I fear we are not keeping up our end of the deal.

As we saw in 14:29 and in 15:19, 16:1+4 are part of Jesus’ purpose in these last minute instructions: to prepare His disciples to stand firm in the face of what was about to happen to them.  Jesus’ teaching here is for His disciples in the first place.  We do well to note the original context, as always.  But we also need to understand the principles and apply them to our own context.  This means Jesus’ words prepare us for two things: to be a witness and to suffer worldly opposition for our witness.

Opposition will even come from seemingly religious people (16:2-3).  Jesus’ strongest opposition came from the Pharisees, people who were highly esteemed in their culture as scrupulously religious folk.  But it’s not hard to be very religious yet not possess a bit of love: that’s hypocrisy.

Jesus warned His disciples that violent opposition will come from people who’ve convinced themselves their violent acts are a form of service to God.  In the book of Acts we see how Saul persecuted the Church until Jesus confronted him on the road to Emmaus.  He fulfilled this prophecy, as have other religious people in all the times since Jesus said these words.  It’s particularly disappointing when family members betray one another, but Jesus wanted us to be sure that we had been warned; to expect opposition and thereby not be discouraged by the world’s opposition.